My guest today is Liesel Schwarz, writer extraordinaire of steampunk adventures. Her heroine reminds me a great deal of Karen/Carina: young women who know their minds, courageous and who try to make sense of the different (to us) worlds they live in. A life-long fan of 19th Century Gothic literature, Liesel is a hopeless romantic and loves Victorians, steampunk, fairies, fantasy monsters, the Fin de Siècle, and the correct way to drink absinthe.
She also likes Medieval stuff, pirates, zombies, space operas and all subjects in between. She has been very busy with her doctorate in English and Creative Writing at Brunel University and her three books in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow series: A Conspiracy of Alchemists, A Clockwork Heart and, this June, Sky Pirates. She lives in London and is definitely a cat person.
Welcome, Liesel! You write in an alternative reality where technology based on steam prevails but social attitudes and values haven’t progressed much beyond in ‘real life’ Victorian society. How have you reconciled the ‘girl’s own adventure’ of your tough protagonist Elle with these values?
I think this was one of the most interesting and challenging parts of writing the series. I think it is impossible to create authenticity when writing within a certain historical context (whether it be alternative reality or not) without having your characters behave as they would have done in accordance with the attitudes and values of the time.
Historical fiction is, in a way, a form of time travel and I think most readers read historical fiction so they can escape to that specific space and time. In a way, the rigid and biased attitudes and values which prevailed in the early 20th century made setting up an adventure story really easy. There was also a precedent for this because there were a surprising number of women from that time who rebelled against the ideals of the time. These women engaged in all manner of professions such archaeology, botany, religious ministry, medicine, artists and many more. At the time, the first proto-feminists were growing the suffragette movement. Women were starting to challenge sexual stereotypes and we see the Bohemian movement and experimentation with all manner of things emerging. All of these ingredients gave me a lot of options that were credible within the historical context and playing with these ideas was great fun.
What has been the most surprising thing – good or bad – on your journey to publication? And during your research?
I think I was just generally surprised by the whole journey to publication. I had hoped it would happen, but I never actually thought I would get published and to this day I still have to pinch myself to make sure it’s not just a figment of my imagination.
I was also quite surprised by the amount of work that goes into producing a book. Things like all the various rounds of edits, cover design and promotion. I don’t think many people actually realize how many hours go into the creation of a book.
I think the manner in which people respond to one’s work is truly surprising. Both good and bad. On the whole, I have been absolutely overwhelmed by positive responses to my work and that is one of the best things ever.
I have to admit that I am quite a fan of Victorian “wellness” technology. Strange miracle tinctures, odd medical accouterments – all of which was invented in a time when things like electricity was still a mystery. I love looking at the old advertisements for those. One of my favourite inventions is an electric corset that apparently assisted with backache.
I’ll go for anything that saves backache!
For Eleanor ‘Elle’ Chance, the last year has been hard. Her husband is lost. Her duty as the Oracle is a blessing and a curse. If it wasn’t for her work, piloting the Water Lily and exploring the world, she would have nothing left to cling on to.
But as a routine cargo mission to the Sudan offers unforeseen opportunities, the council of Warlocks has fallen under the sway of the Shadow Master, and he has plans for the Oracle…
Liesel’s website: http://www.lieselschwarz.com